Brian Charles Lara: The Prince of Cricket
Numbers have always fascinated cricket fans around the world and in many cases, the players are associated with these. So, when we think of numbers like 277, 375, 153, 213, 400 & 501; the image of a certain Brian Charles Lara comes in front of us.
“All I want to ask is did I entertain”
“The Prince” as he was called, has not only been one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the game of cricket but has also been a thorough entertainer. So, at the time of his retirement; when he asked the crowd, “All I want to ask is did I entertain?”; there was a resounding roar from the crowd.
The Trinidad born genius had his eyes set on greatness since early days. His sister Agnes recounts an incident about seven-year-old Lara as mentioned in James Fuller’s book ‘Brian Lara’. She says, “Within a year of starting at the clinic, Brian told me that he wanted to be the world’s greatest cricketer, and already the game was his life”.
And to say that he did achieve that would be an understatement. He has many records to his name. But if there was one record that he had been after since the very beginning was Sir Gary Sobers’ highest ever test score of 365 runs. Lara’s excitement knew no bounds when he met Sobers for the first time. 18-year-old Lara was playing a match in Barbados and when he met Sobers at his house, Lara shook his hands and asked, “You Sir Sobers, you Sir Sobers?”
“I’ll break that”
Much before this meeting, when Lara was around 13-years-old and was playing for Fatima College, he had asked his coach Bryan Davis (former West Indies opening batsman) that how had Garry Sobers' record of 365 not out lasted for so long. After listening to the reply about the skill and concentration that was required to bat for so long, teenager Lara just said, “I’ll break that”.
I am sure Mr. Davis would not have thought that this young boy would one day overhaul a record which had been around since 1958. The moment of reckoning came in 1994 in the fifth test match between West Indies and England at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
Recalling that innings Lara had once said, “What I was thinking was that if I get to 250 I would be quite happy then slowly try to crawl past my best ever, 277. Thinking back to Australia, when I got back to the dressing room and had a bath and I realized I was only 14 runs short of Viv Richards’ record, the 291, I thought you know you’re going to take it stride by stride and get to 277, then 291, and then hopefully you’re going to get to the triple century”.
It was 11:46 AM local time on the third day of the match, when Lara’s long cherished dream was realized. He pulled Chris Lewis for a boundary and Sobers’ 36-year-old record was broken. Sir Gary was himself present at the ground and he hugged the new world-record-holder.
Although, this record was broken by the Australian opener Matthew Hayden in 2003 when he scored 380 runs against Zimbabwe; Lara regained it back the next year. This time around, Lara went on to become the first man to score a quadruple century in test match cricket and this record still stands tall today.
These marathon innings do require a lot many things, but one very important aspect is to have the confidence to achieve it and Lara did possess that. Former English cricketer, Gladstone Small’s (who was Lara’s teammate when he scored 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994) story of the final day of that county match goes to show Lara’s confidence.
During lunch, Lara had asked, “Do you think I can go for the record?” Small thought that Lara who was batting on 285 then, was talking about his individual best of 375. To his surprise, the Prince said, “No Hanif Mohammad’s record”.
“What? If Hooper didn't run him out, Lara would still be batting today!”
In between these long innings’, Lara has played many great knocks entertaining cricket lovers around the world. There was an old commercial in India which had the lines, “Lara, kya maara!” (What a hit Lara!) and it perhaps summarized his career. But one of the greatest testimonies that I have come across him is by a cricket lover as mentioned in Fuller’s biography of the great man.
Apparently, two people were discussing Lara’s 277 against Australia in Sydney and one of them said, “Best innings ah ever see. If Hooper didn't run him out he’d ah break Sober’s record that day”. And the reply was, “What? If Hooper didn't run him out, Lara would still be batting today!”